Kabir (1398 - 1518), the illiterate jolaha (weaver) poet who flourished in the 15th century in our ancient land sang hundreds of songs and couplets effortlessly.
The first authentic record of some of these songs of great spiritual and poetic excellence is to be found in the holy Guru Granth Saheb of the Sikhs. These and more of them which have been handed down to us through other sources run into thousands.
Of them a large number portray the prem-lila (love-game) between the Soul of man (jivathma) and paramathma (Supreme Soul) for their ultimate union signifying the salvation of the soul in man and also of the man concerned. Kabir was firmly of the conviction that God, or in other words salvation, can be attained by the way of love.
Some of the love songs of Kabir together with other songs had been translated into English free verse by Tagore in 1915, and by Lynda Hess and another in 1947 and by Pritish Nandy in 1980. Kabir is now widely read by the English knowing readers in the country and abroad.
But, for the first time one hundred and one of the love songs of Kabir are presented in simple lucid English free verse for the benefit of the wider audience in this book which will remove a long felt want.
The author, G.N. Das, retired from Indian Administrative Service in the year 1972. Born in the year 1913 in the District of Cuttack in Orissa, he graduated in the year 1936 with honours in English literature from the Patna University.
He was awarded a UNO Fellowship in Social Welfare Administration for a year's course of theoretical study in the University College of the South West, Exeter, England, and practical study in countries like the U.K., Ceylon, North Borneo and Singapore in the year 1953-54.
After retirement he engaged himself in the study of the life and philosophy of Sant Kabir and produced a book entitled "Kabir" on the biography and philosophy of the saint-poet in 1986 in Oriya language.
In the following year he produced a verse translation in Oriya of one hundred selected poems of the Saint-poet and one hundred of his couples entitled "Kabir Sataka".
In 1988 he brought out a study of the moral principles enshrined in Sant Tulasi Das' Shri Raam Charit Mans in Oriya.
Born 600 years ago and said to have lived for 129 years (1389-1518 A.D.), Kabir belonged to Bhakti Movement with a marked strain of mysticism. It was the time when the Moghuls and Afghans had decided that rather than plundering and returning, they would occupy what they called Hindustan and settle here for good. In order that a reasonable equation was brought about between the two religious communities, the Sufis and Bhaktas started striving for it. A disciple of Ramanand, Kabir is believed to have made significant contribution towards this cause.
Maybe, Kabir was specifically commissioned for the task. There is an interesting anecdote about his birth. It is said that there lived a Brahmin at Varanasi who was a devotee of Ramanand. The Brahmin had a daughter who was a virgin-widow. She longed to pay homage to Ramanand. Her father, one day, took the girl along with him. As she prostrated before Ramanand and touched his feet, the master blessed her with a son. Considering that the girl was a virgin-widow, the Brahmin was in a queer predicament. Ramanand's words, however, could not be recalled. In due course, the girl gave birth to a son whom they surreptitiously abandoned by the side of a lake, a little distance away from the town. Soon thereafter the baby was spotted by a Muslim weaver and his wife who, as it happened, were issueless. They adopted the child and named him Kabir.
Born of a Brahmin mother and brought up in a Muslim family, Kabir was, as it were, made for bringing about understanding and amity between the Hindus and Muslims of his time.
He was a no nonsense godman. He rejected ritualism and the unnecessary ceremonials prevalent amongst both the Hindus and Muslims. His approach towards religion was essentially rational. He wanted the Hindus to be good Hindus and the Muslims to be good Muslims. He condemned the curse of caste system and its no uncertain impact on Islam in India, vehemently. For him Ram and Rahim were the same. He believed that there was no such thing as high caste and low caste. All men are born equal. He challenged the Brahmin of his day-'If you are Brahmin, born of a Brahmin mother, why did you not take birth by a different course? How come, I am blood and you are milk?'
He found fault with idol-worship of the Hindus. He admonished the devotee telling him that every leaf that he plucked for his offering had life in it while the idol he worshipped was lifeless. Says Kabir:
Similarly, he was critical of the Muslim way of life, not sparing even some of the provisions of the Islamic Shariat. He insisted on clean living making no difference between a devout Hindu and a Godfearing Muslim. Says Kabir:
No wonder that he alienated both the Hindus and Muslims who made a complaint against him to the king. Kabir was summoned to the court. During the course of argument it was discovered, what to speak of Islam and Brahminism, Kabir seemed to find fault even with God:
There came a stage in his life when Kabir withdrew himself from the worldly duties altogether and devoted himself exclusively to the spiritual pursuits. This led to unpleasantness. A family man, quitting his profession and taking to what his people considered ungainful pursuits! An evolved soul, Kabir paid no heed to his sorrowing mother. He has recorded this in one of his hymns:
The Sufis of his time believed that one way to attain God (lshq Haquiqi) was through worldly love (Ishq Majazi). You love the physical person of your beloved so intensely that a stage comes when the worldly love sublimates itself into spiritual love. That Kabir subscribed to it is evident from his verse. He composed a large number of love-songs that are marked for their sensuous overtones:
It is the intense longing of the devotee that qualifies him to attain enlightenment. It is one-pointed search. It entails a great deal of sacrifice. It is constant day and night pursuit. And when the devotee arrives, he must not relax. He must entrench the Lord to his heart:
The path is arduous. It is beset with not a few hazards. Man is inherently prone to the five vices-Iust, avarice, ire, attachment, and ego. They are like predators, the Bedouines in the pilgrims way to Mecca. One must guard against them:
However, if God so pleases, one can be saved. The Bhakti Movement laid stress on Grace. No amount of man's effort avails. He must evoke the Divine pleasure. The Guru shows the way and it is God's grace that gets to the goal:
The Divine bliss is enchanting. It is like nothing else known to the mortal being:
It is not easy attaining the Divine love. It asks for heavy price, at times even the head of the seeker:
A great saint and social reformer, Kabir was not only the fore- runner of the Bhakti Movement, he is, probably, the most sensitive and perceptive poet of his time. The thought-content, the diction and the liquid lyricism of this hymn in the original will do credit to any poet of his age:
The mystic in the poet takes pride in it, the Bhakta in him remains the humble Kabir.
Shri Gananath's translation of Kabir's love songs into free verse is laudable indeed, more especially in the year of the saint- poet's Sixth Birth Centenary. The devotion with which he has gone about his job is creditable.
Kabir (1389-1518 A.D.) was endowed from birth with deep spiritual insight and strong common sense combined with deep sympathy and love for his fellow beings. He enriched this by taking lessons from the book of life and watching intently the social, political and spiritual scene around him.
As he grew up he spurned the idea of going in for formal education for he considered it enough to learn only the two letters which make Rama, his Eternal Supreme God, rather than all the fifty-two alphabets. And, he showed its validity in his own life.
With the guidance of the then eminent spiritual leader Ramanand, whom he got as his preceptor, and extensive contact and communion with seers and saints of various faiths like Hinduism with its numerous sects such as Baishnab, Saiva, Ganapatya, Shakta etc, Islam, Sufism, Hatha Yogis, Nathpanthis, Buddhism, Jainism and so on which existed side by side occasionally jostling one another, and Kabir drew his own lessons from each of them and on their reactions to one another.
As Kabir advanced in his spiritual development he gained the deep rooted conviction that man was created by God in his own image, the soul in man (Jivathma) being part and parcel of the Supreme Soul (Paramathma). This idea he accepted from Hindu philosophy. And, though each of the two viz Jivathma and Paramathma is ever eager to unite with the other it depended on the man (jiva) concerned how far he was able to help or hinder this process. If he would lead a noble. and clean life it would be helpful for his soul to achieve the goal of union or else if he indulged in evil deeds it would impede the process by exerting adverse influence on the efforts of his soul.
It is, therefore, of utmost importance, Kabir held, that man should follow the right path in life in his thought, word and deed and remain steadfast in his devotion to Paramathma. This will facilitate his soul to come close and closer to Paramathma till at length the soul in him unites with the Supreme Soul.
The whole process of the soul and the Supreme Soul heading towards each other and their final union has been termed as lila or spiritual love game and their ultimate union as spiritual marriage by spiritual leaders, seers and saints, particularly of the Rahasyabad or mystic schools of thought.
Scholars, spiritual leaders, and seers have racked their brain and gone into intensive enquiry as to why God (Paramathma) being Himself Almighty should have thought of such a process as Lila to effect the union of Jivathma and Paramathma (Himself). They have not found the answer to that and have remained satisfied holding that lila is for lila sake only. There cannot be any explanation for it.
In the view of Kabir love is the basic ingredient of devotion to the Lord. For Kabir without love devotion is meaningless:
According to Kabir love plays the most vital part in the union of soul and Supreme Soul. The following lines of Sl. 89 make that self evident:
It is said that Kabir drew upon the Sufi view that the attraction between jivathma and paramathma towards each other is based on love for their ultimate union. According to the Sufis jivathma (human soul) which should be the prime mover in this game of love between the two is to be taken as the masculine element because they hold that the love of the man for the woman is always stronger and more eloquent than that of the woman for the man.
Kabir, however, preferred to accept the Baishnab view that the love of the woman is always stronger and more ardent and, therefore, jivathma which has to be the prime mover must represent the feminine element in the game between the two. Paramathma being the only masculine element (Parama Purusha) will be sought after ardently by the feminine element for the Union.
In hundreds of his love songs portraying the Prema Lila (game of love) between the jivathma and Paramathma Kabir has taken the former as the feminine and the latter as the masculine element.
In these songs, one hundred and one of which follow, the saint-poet has in a poignant manner in his homely diction and similes portrayed the urge of love and the pang of separation that the jivathma feels and suffers for want of her Love (Paramathma) and also the efforts she makes and hopes and fears she entertains in her heart.
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